My latest foray into nonfiction is Charlotte Gray’s fantastic Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country. On the surface,My latest foray into nonfiction is Charlotte Gray’s fantastic Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country. On the surface, Gray takes a look at a trial, but this book is much more. It’s a snapshot of Toronto during a time of change and turmoil. Women were fighting to be recognized as something more than wives and mothers, and Canadians were shipping off to Europe to fight on the front lines. The trial and the war do not initially make much sense being juxtaposed against one another, but the strength of Gray’s writing is in her ability to combine a seemingly unrelated trial to the larger scope of events that occupied the minds of an entire country.
In February 1915, eighteen year old, Carrie Davies shot and killed her employer, Charles “Bert” Massey. This act captured the attention of the masses for a short time in February, and showcases the divided attitudes and social codes of a city in flux.
Immediately following the shooting, Carrie was arrested and brought to trial, much quicker than would have been expected. The Massey family attempted to quiet the scandal, but the newspapers and one intrepid lawyer would not let this story die. Not because Carrie was innocent, there’s no way of truly knowing this, but because of the prestige this case offered. The newspapers sold stories and took very biased approaches to the Carries innocence of lack thereof. The lawyer wanted the notoriety that he could receive from both defending Carrie and getting ahead of a very powerful Toronto family.
What immediately struck me in The Massey Murder is the fact that Carrie, the apparent “heroine” of this narrative, played such a passive role. Every single person around her used her and her situation for some advantage. Carrie’s lawyer didn’t really even spend much time with Carrie and he spun a convincing tale that put Carrie into a positive light for the jury. Carrie Davies caused the event that sparked much debate, but she wasn’t really involved in any deciding factors of her fate. This struck me as unbearably sad, and really speaks to the status of women at this time. Yes, women were fighting for rights, but the way Carrie was manipulated throughout her trial demonstrates how far these women had to go. It also says much about the justice system of the time (and perhaps today’s, as well). I also think that the manipulation of Carrie also speaks to the manipulation of both the masses and the men who were convinced to go to war for "duty" and "honour". For me, the theme of manipulation is what brought the seemingly divergent threads together.
It was fascinating how Gray combined one contained event (the murder and trial) and threaded within a much larger narrative: the war. I was surprised about the amount of time the author spent detailing the war, but I do think it worked here. The scandalous murder helped Torontonians focus on something other than the war effort, and I think it explained much of the attitude that the general public had towards Carrie and the entire trial. Without the war narrative, I think it would be difficult to truly understand the attitude of the people of the city and subsequently, those involved in the trial.
The newspaper element was also interesting to me, especially the notion of newspaper wars. Gray expertly demonstrates how blatantly the popular newspapers of the day spun the murder of Bert Massey to suit their needs. One, The Evening Telegram, was on the side of Carrie; they played to their readership and garnered their sympathies by emphasizing Carrie's Britishness and innocence. The Toronto Daily Star, on the other hand, went in opposite direction, putting forth Carrie as the villain in this piece. Neither was concerned with the truth of the events, but were motivated by less admirable goals. These newspapers and the people that ran them, had prejudices and supported certain factions and families in the city, and supporting them came paramount to the truth of events.
Ultimately, The Massey Murder was a great read. I loved Gray’s writing style and I think it will appeal to fiction readers who are not in love with nonfiction. I also think the showcasing of historic Toronto will appeal to fans of the popular TV show, Murdoch Mysteries, I know it came immediately to mind as soon as I started reading this one. A highly recommended read!
In Inconvenient Indian King takes an immensely complicated topic and distills it into something that's accessible, and not only that, he also makes itIn Inconvenient Indian King takes an immensely complicated topic and distills it into something that's accessible, and not only that, he also makes it engaging and lively. The issue of Native-White relations is not something that you'd generally perceive as something that's lively. Heart wrenching, controversial, yes, but lively not so much. But King is one of a hell of a writer. He continually acknowledges the tough stuff but always demonstrates this with wit and the occasional sarcastic comment, which drives home the difficulties in the many contradictory interactions between White people and Natives, and it's easy to guess just who's behaving in a contradictory manner.
While I loved King's engaging and dynamic style of writing, the concepts that he brought up where also vastly interesting and have really opened my eyes to a history and political issue that I knew next to nothing about. Now, I remember those Canadian history classes from elementary school to university and they always cover the "contact" period between the Natives and the European settlers. That said, I don't recall my history classes ever truly examining the severe ramifications of these two cultures meeting. King does this in a way that's meaningful.
What I also liked was how King forces readers to consider how history is crafted in chapter one. I've thought a lot about how the media manipulates information, but this served as a reminder that someone is writing history as well.
Most of us think that history is the past. It's not. History is the stories we tell about the past. That's all it is. Stories. Such a definition might make the enterprise of history seem neutral. Benign.
Which, of course, it isn't.
History may well be a series of stories we tell about the past, but the stories are not just any stories. They're not chosen by chance. By and large, the stories are about famous men and celebrated events. We throw in a couple of exceptional women every now and then, not out of any need to recognize female eminence, but out of embarrassment.
And we're not easily embarrassed.
When we imagine history, we imagine a grand structure, a national chronicle, a closely organized and guarded record of agreed-upon events and interpretations, a bundle of "authenticities" and "truths" welded into a flexible, yet conservative narrative that explains how we got from there to here. It is a relationship we have with ourselves, a love affair we celebrate with flags and anthems, festivals and guns (p. 2-3).
Reading this had me hooked. The fact that history is constructed for consumption is not a new idea for me, but King puts it here so succinctly that I think everyone should read this book. While King focuses on Natives in North America, you can apply his statement about history so much further and it's that concept that I find so interesting. King succeeds in framing Native history in a way that brings a new understanding of the conventional lessons that are taught in the history classroom. Whether it's media or a textbook, the consumer should always think critically about the content that they are engaging with. Someone has packaged it and with it, they have included their own biases and prejudices. With The Inconvenient Indian it is all too clear who has suffered from continued constructed history that has shaped beliefs and encourage behaviour among others. Folks, history isn't a boring and lifeless thing, it always impacts the present for better or worse.
King speaks further on the importance of history when he considers the argument that the past is the past, why can't Native people move on? This notion of forgetting the past in favour of moving forward is an important one since I think it's one that's all too easy to get caught up in. We live in a society where the focus is on the present more so than on the past or even on the future (to an extent). With an issue like Native-White relations how can the past be brushed under the rug? Where is the context for present day arguments? This is an important question to think about considering King's focus, but it also has broad application for a whole host of other problems or global issues. Another reason that I think everyone should read the book.
Additionally, I also appreciated the fact that King's scope encompasses Native-White relations in both Canada and the United States. I think this is partly due to the author's own experiences, but also due to the fact that the border is a separate construct for Natives and created with little (more likely, none) regard for the Native peoples that straddled this line. It conveyed the huge diversity that exists among Native peoples and opened my eyes to this issue outside of a Canadian lens.
Ultimately, I think The Inconvenient Indian is an important book. The issues that King explores are timely and thought-provoking. This needs to be on people's radar. What's more is that King writes in such a way that this book will actually be read by more than academics; it's accessible, it's not a textbook. Everyone should read this book - so get thee to a library!
I moderate the nonfiction book club at the library where I work. I'm not much of a nonfiction reader, so at times this is a challenging task for me, e I moderate the nonfiction book club at the library where I work. I'm not much of a nonfiction reader, so at times this is a challenging task for me, especially picking the books to discuss for each monthly meeting. For July I decided on Orange is the New Black. I knew that it was a t.v. show, but beyond that, I was simply thinking practically. Book club sets cost money, and since Orange is the New Black is popular, I was pretty sure that it would at least get used again.
I didn't expect to like Orange is the New Black, but as soon as I got through chapter one, I was hooked. This was a great memoir and one that I found well written and perfect for readers who do not normally gravitate towards nonfiction (my hand is raised here). Kerman combines thought provoking information about the American prison system with engaging anecdotes from her time at Danbury Correctional Facility. There was a great balance between the info and Kerman's own experiences, and it was that combination that kept me flipping through the pages.
Orange is the New Black opened my eyes to the harsh realities of prison life, which often seemed contradictory. On one hand, prison didn't seem as bad as I expected. Kerman seemed to adapt well and conducted her stay in prison with poise and wisdom. But when you looked beyond Kerman's matter-of-fact tone, that's when you really understood how illogical the prison system really is. I think the scene that struck me the most is when Piper is attending a seminar to prep her and her fellow prisoners for release. Teaching the women about health was a correctional officer who worked in food services at Danbury:
The guy from food services was very nice and very funny. We liked him a lot. He told us that it was important to eat right, exercise, and treat your body as a temple. But he didn't tell us how to get health care services that people with no money could afford. He didn't tell us how we could quickly obtain birth control and other reproductive health services. He didn't recommend any solutions for behavioral or psychiatric care, and for sure some of those broads needed it. He didn't say what options there might be for people who had struggled with substance abuse, sometimes for decades, when they were confronted by old demons on the outside (p. 249-50).
I was shocked to learn that prisoners are given virtually no support in returning to the world outside of prison. How is this rehabilitative? To me, it seemed like most prisoners were set up for failure from the get-go. Unless a prisonor had the type of support system that Piper had, the world outside of prison can be a very scary place. Imagine being locked up for 15 years and smartphones are invented by the time you come out, how do you cope with that?
Orange is the New Black got me thinking about issues that I'd never considered before. This issue about the actual purpose of prison formed a large part of the discussion when the book club met at my library. Some people felt little sympathy for the prisoners, but most recognized how broken this system seems. Many of the "characters" that populate Kerman's book could definitely make it in the free world, and many wanted to, but without someone supporting them on the outside, many were doomed with failure.
Ultimately, I was surprised in reading Orange is the New Black. I didn't think I would like it, and I was worried that it would be a pity party offered up by the author. Kerman never once decried the fact that she was sent to prison. She admitted that she had committed a crime and was willing to accept the consequences, and I admire the author for that. This book was well-written and gets you thinking about a segment of the population that I don't think is on many people's radar. That fact that I'm thinking about the book and the issues that it raised days after finishing reading it, is a mark of how engaging I found this book. I don't have any interest in watching the Netflix show, but I am curious about how Canadian prisons stack up in comparison. Some future research my be required on my part.
Liked the Canadian perspective; there's a lot to think about here. While the info is good, I just didn't find this a gripping read. The style was a liLiked the Canadian perspective; there's a lot to think about here. While the info is good, I just didn't find this a gripping read. The style was a little too flowery for me. ...more
Interesting way to revisit Poe's life. I enjoyed how the author brought the biographical thread of Poe's life into an unsolved crime. I woul3.5 Stars
Interesting way to revisit Poe's life. I enjoyed how the author brought the biographical thread of Poe's life into an unsolved crime. I wouldn't recommend it for die-hard fans of Poe, as I think the biographical material is nothing new. However, if your interested in the start and impact of sensational journalism, this is worth the read. ...more
I don't usually read a whole heck of a lot of non-fiction; however, I mediate the non-fiction book club at work, so I've necessarily had to branch outI don't usually read a whole heck of a lot of non-fiction; however, I mediate the non-fiction book club at work, so I've necessarily had to branch out from my genre junkie ways. Happily, I loved my most recent foray into the non-fiction world and I can't wait to discuss with my book club.
The Devil's Teeth is part investigative journalism and part travelogue. On the surface this book promises to be a fascinating look at great white sharks. I was expecting bloody shark attacks, and to an extent I found what I was looking for. What I did not expect was the setting itself to take on a character of it's own. The Farallon Islands, located off the coast of California, took centre stage, which makes me want to label this more of a travel memoir over anything else. Readers learn about this desolate and harsh hub of shark research and it's fascinating history. I was completely drawn in by Casey's description of these islands and the lengths that researchers would go to study the marine life as well as the unique birds that would flock there. The history of these islands was totally engrossing and it was fascinating to learn about the previous inhabitants of the islands; my personal favourite was the "eggers" that decimated the bird population at one point in an effort to supply the demand for eggs when chickens couldn't be found. Ironically, it's not only sharks that have become endangered at the Farallon Islands, but rather a whole host of creatures over the islands varied history.
Now with regards to sharks; they were what initially drew me to this book. I've long had a fascination with sharks, as I am sure many have considering the popularity of Shark Week. I have to admit I was expecting more about the great white sharks at the Farallon Islands and about sharks in general. I would have thought there would have been more of an overview or historical perspective of sharks; however, the anecdotes that Casey shared from the island's researchers more than made up for this lack. The short snippets that Casey shared about the shark encounters at the islands was interesting and readable and I found myself flying through the pages.
What was also engaging about The Devil's Teeth was Casey's presentation of the researchers on the island and other people her paths crossed with. Since I'm a fiction reader I tend to like more character driven type stuff, so I think part of why I liked The Devil's Teeth so much was because Casey filled her writing with characters; specifically, Peter Pyle, Scot Anderson, the Browns, Ron the diver and so on. These characters were well drawn out, to the point where readers are given complete physical descriptions. From reading other reviews of The Devil's Teeth I can understand why there was some criticism of Casey's emphasis on the "rugged good looks" of the men she encountered, but from my perspective, this attention to detail was what made this book more than dry, scientific tome on great white sharks.
Lastly, I think I have to address the ethical concerns of this book. Casey becomes completely obsessed with the Farallon Islands, to the extent that she jumps at the chance to return there despite the fact that she'll be breaking lots of rules to do so. On one hand, Casey's actions are hard to understand, especially when she decides to captain a book with very little nautical know-how. To me this seems foolhardy and you could see that it wasn't going to lead to anything good. In fact, the head of the shark project ends up losing his job after Casey's interference; it was a blatant disregard of the rules for Casey to return to the Farallons. What wasn't addressed was Casey's take on how she feels about being part of the reason that someone lost their job. When this was related it seemed a tad cool blooded and I wonder how the author truly felt. On the other hand, you can't place all the blame on Casey since she certainly wasn't sneaking onto the island by herself. At the end of the day, we're only getting a written account of what went down during that last shark season, so in a sense readers need to keep their perspective. What I do know, is that this controversy with Casey will generate some great book club discussion, so I'll be happy about that.